Image source: Getty / Christophe Gateau
Have you ever had the fleeting thought of leaving everything behind? That’s what Deborah Feldman (above) did, and now the true story of how she broke ties with the Hasidic community will form the basis for Unorthodox, one of the latest offers from Netflix. In her early twenties, Feldman and her son moved away from her conservative Hasidic home in New York. Years later, like the main character in the series, she eventually made her way to Europe. She later published her bestselling memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, which would inspire the new adaptation starring Shira Haas (The Zookeeper’s Wife). Feldman’s life has undoubtedly been full of twists – and so her journey has gone.
What Feldman’s Hasidic education looked like
Feldman was born in Williamsburg in 1986 as part of the Satmar Hasidic community, a sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews from Hungary and Romania known for their separation from the outside world. Her grandparents raised her, when her mother left when she was young and her father had an intellectual disability. When she later reconnected with her mother, a teacher, Feldman discovered she was an atheist and a lesbian. Feldman’s upbringing was fairly conservative. Ideas that she grew up with included the sinfulness of the female body and the English language. She believed that the only roles for her in this community were those of a wife and mother.
Image source: Netflix
How Feldman started breaking rules
According to Feldman, she started breaking the Hasidic rules with minor actions, painting her nails with clear polish and reading books in English in the library. When she was 17, her grandfather arranged her marriage to a Talmud student called Eli. Shortly after, she gave birth to her son at the age of 19. She started enrolling in classes at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, where she studied literature and feminism. (Feldman told her husband that she was taking business classes adding to his income as a copywriter with a Hasidic newspaper.) This time also included breaking her rule get a driver’s license and grow her hair.
How Feldman was inspired to write her book
Feldman eventually left her marriage at the age of 23 and took it alone her son and garbage bags with clothes. Around this time, she lived with friends and consulted lawyers to maintain custody of her son. Her struggle inspired her to publish her revealing memoir in 2012 at the age of 25. Although a bestseller is controversial, her book is widely known. In a chapterFeldman tells how her husband told her about a father who slit his son’s throat after he caught him masturbating and how the Hasidic community helped him hide the crime. The Hasidic community has since rejected this claim.
According to her website, Feldman and her son live in Berlin, where she is currently working on her first German-language novel. She succeeded in 2014 Unorthodox with a second memoir, Exodus, which describes her journey through Europe and her research into the life of her grandmother during the Holocaust.